opium poppy

The headlines are nonstop. We are told that people are dying every day because of abuse of opioid analgesics. There are tragic stories about overdose deaths. This makes lawmakers want to crack down and make it harder for doctors to prescribe such medications and people to access them. Some people, like this reader, are caught in the cross fire of the opioid epidemic.

Q. What are people in chronic pain going to do now that the pendulum has swung toward not prescribing opiates for those in chronic pain?

As a hospice nurse I frequently see patients suffering from terminal cancer pain. I myself am a chronic pain patient and am scared to death that I will no longer be able to get adequate relief from severe pain.

Is anyone with compassion overseeing agencies such as the DEA, insurance companies or government policy makers?

A. Regulators are caught on the horns of a terrible dilemma. On the one hand they are dealing with an opioid epidemic. There are scary headlines about abuse of drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin) or fentanyl. Overdose deaths are reported almost every day.

DEA Cracks the Whip:

As a result of the opioid epidemic, policy makers have cracked down on drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone. The Drug Enforcement Administration has made it harder for physicians to prescribe such medications for people dealing with chronic pain. Many doctors are now fearful to prescribe these drugs for more than a few weeks.

Many patients suffering long-term severe pain are having a hard time getting relief. We have heard from hundreds of people who never abused opioids or increased their dose.

Stories from Readers:

Kay in Seattle, Washington:

“I had a terrible slip & fall in the shower 6 years ago and for 4 years following that accident, I had relentless pain, my mobility decreased, I gained weight and slowly slipped into a very scary, dark place emotionally and mentally.

“Luckily and by the grace of God, I found a combination of a good pain doctor and 2 specialists in alternative therapies that have slowly but surely helped me to start to regain my life back. I am not 100% but I am a lot better.

“It makes me so sad because I know there are people out there who have not been able to find medical professionals that can help and/or will really listen. Reading about people in pain who cannot access treatment makes my chest tighten up, my heart ache and brings tears to my eyes.

“I shudder to think where I might be had I not found help. Pain meds work for people who need them & the people who need them should be able to get them without being put through the 3rd degree. They feel bad enough already without being denied and shamed by the government or medical professionals.”

Jan in Alaska writes:

“I have worked in the Carpenters Union for over 20 years. I have also been in three rear end collisions. Between these injuries and osteoarthritis I would not be able to function if it weren’t for opioids I would never get any sleep. If you cannot sleep you cannot function.

“I have NEVER over used, or abused my prescriptions. I feel I am suffering because of the actions of others.”

Jackie in South Carolina has an interesting perspective on a powerful drug:

“I am going on 80 years of age and have been taking oxycodone on and off for several years for chronic back pain. Before I reach for the oxycodone I try everything else in my ‘arsenal’ like heat patches, Tylenol, ice packs…you name it…and if they don’t relieve my pain I take the opioid.

“There are trade offs. Constipation, a slight hangover in the morning, etc. No one has to protect me from myself and I resent someone unrelated and uninformed about my medical condition having the power to dictate how much pain I must tolerate.

“What are we to do without the option of oxycodone and the like? Lie awake through the night and suffer? People who find a way to abuse that particular substance will just turn to something else with possibly greater consequences. Who, then, is better off?”

The People’s Pharmacy Perspective:

Sadly, there are no simple solutions to the challenging dilemma of the opioid epidemic. It is not clear that restricting access to these drugs for people in severe chronic pain will end the opioid abuse problem in America. Sadly, we do not have great alternative strategies for dealing with this kind of pain.

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  1. Timothy M
    Burlington Vt

    I am 62 yrs old construction mgr and have suffered from global (which means everywhere) severe advanced degenerative osteoarthritis and acute osteoporosis in several areas, i.e. Left hip etc.. I was advised by a team of my doctors, counsellors, psychologist and psychiatrist at the Community Health Center where I have been treated for chronic pain management for 20yrs plus that it was ok for me to become dependant on opioids given my condition, so long as I did not become addicted.

    I have taken the same amount everyday for the last ten years and now I’m being told I have learn how to live without it because of an opioid abuse epidemic ravaging the country.. So do I become collateral damage?

  2. David
    Modesto, CA

    I am 54 years old and have been dealing with back pain for the past 20 years. I have been on opiates (Oxycontin and Oxycodone) for chronic pain for the past 9 years to deal with my lower back/leg pain and neck pain. I’ve never abused it or tried to get early refills in all this time. I’ve had 4 surgeries (1 cervical and 3 lumbar), 18 epidurals, multiple rounds of prednisone, acupuncture and a host of nerve and other pain medications and the only thing that consistently helps to dull the pain enough to function (most days) has been the opiates. But now it’s like I’m being looked at as a drug addict because this medication offers me relief.
    I went to see a doctor this morning to discuss getting another cervical epidural because the pain in my neck and shoulder has reached an unbearable point, and he said the only way he would take me on and do this is if I agree to start getting off the opiates. The only reason I am wanting to have the epidural is because the opiates don’t offer the relief for my neck pain that they do to my lower back and leg. So if I agree to this I may get some temporary relief, until the epidural wears off, in my neck but increased pain in my lower back and leg. He said he doesn’t believe in prescribing opiates for pain and that they are probably the cause of my pain since I’ve been on them so long.
    It’s funny how someone who is young and healthy and not living every day in pain can make a judgement on how I am feeling and what works for me. I have tried many, many different medications and alternate therapies and the one thing that has consistently worked is the one I’m being told I can no longer have.
    I’ve worked at my job for 35 years and finally reached a point where I needed to take time off work because the pain was so bad I could not concentrate. I was at the point where I was tired of living. If it wasn’t for my wife and kids I would have already checked out a while ago, but I can’t do that to them. Fortunately my primary care physician agreed to take me out of work for a while and try some other therapies. One of which is the epidural, to see if it will provide enough relief so I can go back to work. This doctor I just saw said he doesn’t believe in taking people off work, he said we all have pain. I’m glad my PCP doesn’t feel the same way or I may have ended my life a while ago regardless of my family.
    It seems that the DEA and Insurance companies have scared doctors so much that they are going to end up hurting those of us that are legitimately in need of pain medications.

  3. Mike

    I remember having the Right to pain meds. Yes, the”RIGHT.” It was posted at every hospital. How do they get to just take rights away?

    I have been in chronic pain since 2002 and have been on many different meds. My treatment xwasbetweenmy doctor and me. The government has now decided to ruin that relationship formally Americans because they find it too hard to stop the illegal drug dealers. In fifteen years I have never abused my pain meds. They tried to push Viox, which killed people. I refused to take it, but this is what they will do: Push bad drugs on us. How do we fight back?

    • Tina

      I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis degenerative disc disease and have been in pain since 2002. Now my doctors are saying that they’re going to take away my pain pills. This is not fair. I do not abuse them. I do not misuse them. I have gone through them the way I am supposed to go through them. It is not my fault that people are taking these pills and doing what they are doing. I know for a fact that people are going to start turning to drugs and alcohol to get rid of their pain. They tell me that I now have to go to a pain clinic. The pain clinic costs me $30 every time I go in. They want to see me 2 times a wee. That’s $60 a week. I do not have this money. I don’t know what I’m going to do.

      My husband is in the same predicament. He has been through 5 operations. Between his back and his neck he is in so much pain that he can’t walk. I’m saying right now if they take away our pain pills I will be having to quit my job. I will lose my home. I am raising my grandchildren. I don’t know what I’m going to do to place them and my husband into a home. My husband is on Social Security income. His income isn’t enough to do what we have to do to live. This is a nightmare for a lot of us people. Please leave our pain pills alone.

    • Benny

      I have tried physical therapy, cyopractors and got surgery on my back still in pain and have to work,have wife with MS and both of us on pain meds and pharmacy and insurance companies give you such hard time,never abused, never filled early taken like we’re sopoused to and now we’re getting the blame for idots, stop pain meds and they’ll just buy dope ,crack down on people who have to go to the hospital for abusein .
      Pay out of my pocket for insurance so I can try and have a Simi normal life,well there going to have more people in hospitals looking for relief, so see what your profit margin looks like next year, insurance companies be prepared to loose your ass you think it’s bad now pain management
      Profit going thru the roof,will be one on every corner. Put that in your board meetings

  4. Ladonna

    Yes, I suffer with stenosis degenerate disk osteo hip. Since the opioid epidemic doctors are afraid to help with pain meds. They treat you like have the plague plague or something. I went through withdrawals and severe pain. Is there help for people like me? I’m depressed and tired of fighting this mess.

  5. Kathy

    I have Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sjogrens and I am always in pain. It started about 2008 with hands swelling and as a nurse I couldn’t do my job, I was 63 so I retired. Then doctors were generous with pain pills, muscle relaxants etc.

    My diseases progressed and the pain was worse then the ever but now they don’t want to give you drugs.The war on opioids is the government trying to control our lives if junkies overdose and die that should not affect pain management for patients with chronic diseases!

  6. Steve

    This is important. We are not hearing from people pain killers have helped. People who were bed ridden or unable to do the simplest things who since taking pain killers are now able to function. Probably like most here, I didn’t get my first script and finish it 3 weeks early.

    I was prescribed 6 per day, and wound up taking 3. I took them the way pain killers SHOULD be taken. NOT every 4 hours, or every 6 hours, but WHEN YOU NEED THEM. I do get 30mg oxycodone now, and it is a blessing. I need more when I wake up and in the winter, or during heavy rain, because that is when the pain is greatest. I need less on warm sunny days. I never mixed them with anything I shouldn’t, and doctors should not prescribe some things with them, and it is the bad doc who doesn’t know any better who does.

    I never crushed a bunch and laid them on the table to snort. I always took them orally. I often cut them in half to see if that will work, wait 20 minutes, and if it doesn’t, THEN take the other half, sneaking up on the pain to where it is effective, and I am totally functioning. I feel horrible for those who have kids and family members who have suffered through the addiction, and yes, I am addicted now.

    But I knew that going in and still chose to take them because THEY WORK. I prefer immediate release, because of the control I have, and because time release only increases your tolerance, and can’t be “un-done” once taken. I saw my sister go through hell with my niece who began on opiates in HS, and wound up on heroin, in and out of countless rehabs and eventually prison. But she is clean 2 years now, and obviously never took them for pain. She took them to get high.

    It is hard to compare booze to these, because these are medicine, but if I had to, it would be like comparing the guy who sucks down a quart of whiskey at a sitting, staggers to his car and drives around with the guy who has 2 beers watching the ball game. One gets annihilated and is a danger, and the other finds it relaxing and hurts no one.

    Now imagine drinking 2 beers made bedridden people able to work again. Imagine 2 beers made those who could not move able to enjoy life again, and you have the picture.

  7. roger
    new mexico

    I am 66 years old and I have Spondylosis of the spine for many years and the reason I didnt go to Vietnam. I have been taking 5 mg twice a day of hydrocodone for severial years and my Dr. cut me off because of pressure from FDA and her company. I have had to take a urine ( drug screening for a couple years).

    I got a letter saying I had failed the drug test. She said it was because diazapam showed up positve, well she prescribed be 15 tablet of 5 mg for sleep. A coulple of months prior to the test. It was an ridiculous stunt or an excuse to cut me off hydrocodone.I have never tested positve for any illegal or legal drugs that were not supposed to be in my system. This opioid crisis is killing legitimate people who really need the medication and do not abuse it.

    The people that just want to get high will find what ever they want illegally anyway. Thanks to all the good people out there that are suffering because of some bad apples.

    • Robert

      I 100% agree with Roger on this. I had 3 major surgeries in the past 12 mos and one of those was two-9 inch rods amd 11 screws put in my back and fusing of some vertebrea. I have alot of pain still from mainly the back and I take 30 mg Oxycodone and it gives me TRUE QUALITY OF LIFE. I would not be able to do hardly anything if I could not have them. My ins co really fights my doctor amd me on this.

      Here is why for all of us…..we have some young insur co execs up in some tall glass towers who know ansolutley nothing about us as patients and our surgeries and wanting to play doctor with our lives. I go to a pain clinic doctor and their whole staff is up on arms with these ins co’s. The pain clinics try to fight these ins. Co’s as much as their patients do like myself.

      Lawmakers in Dare doing “knee jerk reactions” to all the opioid stuff and try to include us as abusers!….I only wish they could live my life for 24 hrs and then see them scream for pain help. Souless uncaring bastards. I take my meds as directed and always pass everydrug screen I get…which is approx every other appt.

      My doc knows I have legitimate reasons for taking this med….the execs in the insur co does not!…they just want to lump all chronic pain patients in with the abusers who take these meds to get highs. I am 66 and an honest guy….I am fed up with this and they better get it right or there will be hell to pay to these ins co’s.

      I have a great prominent attorney friend and he really wants to go after them for medical treatment abuse and I may let him take my case if things get worse. He sayshe already has plenty of evidence against them now amd my case would be a slam dunk…maybe become even a natl known case he says with all the stuff my ins cohas already done to me. Stay tuned my fellow band of friends who have pain issues like me.

  8. Sean

    This goes back to the 5th grade mindset of punish the entire class because one person screwed up. I’ve been in chronic pain management for 20 years, and I am fortunate to be in pretty good shape. My meds have been stable for about 10 years, and I’ve been able to work and be a productive member of society. My pain doctor and I are concerned that the politicians will involve themselves in this issue and just screw it up. Punish those who abuse medications and use them incorrectly. Don’t punish those of use who use them correctly and have a semi-normal life because of our pain management. I fear where this is going in the end.

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